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Manyi vs Wierzycka: Is Dippenaar the right judge?

Sep 07 2017 15:06
Yolandi Groenewald

Johannesburg - ANN7 owner and former government spin doctor Mzwanele Manyi’s defamation case will only be heard on Friday, after Judge Fiona Dippenaar postponed a motion that asked her to recuse herself from the case. 

Magda Wierzycka‚ the outspoken CEO of Sygnia Asset Management, filed an urgent application in the South Gauteng High Court last week after Manyi wrote on Twitter and Facebook that she is guilty of "economic terrorism" and that she is a “downright racist” who “objectifies black people as things that can be bought”.

This followed comments on social media from Wierzycka, where she made a case that President Jacob Zuma should be paid off to vacate his post, because he is causing the South African economy harm. 

Wierzycka has been an outspoken critic of the Gupta family and state capture. Sygnia was also first to cut ties with KPMG as a result of the auditing firm's involvement in the Gupta wedding payment debacle.

In filing the urgent motion, Wierzycka argued that Manyi's comments have defamed her. 

Arguments were scheduled for Thursday, but Manyi then challenged Dippenaar's appointment.

Manyi was unhappy that the urgent motion had been suddenly switched from Judge Bashier Vally to Dippenaar. Manyi's counsel, Vuyani Ngalwana, informed him before court proceedings began that the case had been handed to Acting Judge Dippenaar and Manyi instructed his counsel to ask Dippenaar to recuse herself. 

Manyi's distress originates from the fact that Dippenaar comes from the same group of chambers as David Unterhalter, Wierzycka's counsel.

Unterhalter argued that judges could only recuse themselves if substantial reason existed. He said collegiality exists between counsels from the same bar associations and that it doesn't impact on the proper way counsels conducted themselves in court. 

"There is no case that has been made out," he said.

Ngalwana said Manyi was not being coy. "Dippenaar has a relationship with Unterhalter and it is close enough for Manyi to be apprehensive," he said. "Rather err on the side of caution."

After hearing the arguments Dippenaar postponed the case till Friday morning, ruling that Manyi's legal team must file a written filing affidavit before 16:00 on Thursday arguing why she should recuse herself. Wierzycka's counsel will then file an answering affidavit before 18:00.

Before Dippenaar's postponement, Manyi said he was totally disturbed that she could rule over his case. "This is aggravating circumstances. Not only is she from the same group, but she is Unterhalter's junior. She will defer to her senior counsel on this. How can this not be biased? This means my case is killed even before its starts."

Wierzycka was not in court. In her affidavit she said she had been defamed and wants the court to order Manyi to apologise to her and also issue a retraction on social media. The statements in questions should also be deleted, she argued. 

Manyi  in turn denied his comments were defamatory and argued that the matter is not urgent. 

On Tuesday, Vally lambasted Manyi's  instructing attorney for failing to file heads of argument before the deadline of 14:00 on Monday. Manyi’s lawyer, Kagiso Dinaka, told the court he did not think it was urgent to file because the matter would be heard on Thursday. Vally said Dinaka's conduct was unacceptable.

Vally passed the case to Dippenaar on Thursday because of a strain on his workload.

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sygnia  |  mzwanele manyi  |  magda wierzycka  |  defamation

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